"How long have you been flying?" asks a passenger.
"Since last Wednesday" Kaile replies with all sincerity as she launches eight mortal souls into the air. Kylie is a pilot for Kappadokya Balloons and with every quick line, we're all in stitches, because she makes us feel like she's never told the same joke or answered the same question before.
"No seriously...how long have you been flying?" the question is nervously repeated.
But there is no reason to be nervous. The balloon flight is gentle, and even those of us who suffer vertigo or fear of heights (and on this flight there is a surprising many) don't have any qualms with the entire adventure.
We met at the Kappadokya Balloons office around dawn, huddled around cups of coffee and Turkish tea and were quickly ushered to the take off spot, a clear flat area, where the balloons could be inflated. This in itself is an experience. The balloons on the ground are larger than you can imagine when you see them soaring above you with little references in the sky to indicate their size. On ground, the sheets silk stretches out in endless colour and once inflation with cold air begins, the staff aiding its inflation are dwarved inside it. As the hot airs pumps in from those powerful sounding burners, the balloon and basket rights itself. We're all grinning from ear to ear.
The take off is so gentle I don't think I noticed the exact moment we left the ground. We rise slowly or so it seems and we fall slowly too, but I notice that other balloons are doing so at an alarming speed, so perhaps we are moving so gently that I can't notice the ground rush up to us or fall below us. I only notice when it's so high that I don't feel like leaning over anymore.
We fly over hand tended gardens, with crops and trees planted and watered by man not machines. We marvel at the erratic shapes of each field and the straight lines of vines. We look at the thirsty cracks in the soil, ingenious attempts at irrigation, and a scarecrow made of black bin liners. We wave and greet a farmer guneydin and with typical toothless grin, he waves back.
Of course we also explore the valleys, littered with "rude shapes" as the very English Kaile calls the phallic shaped rocks. We spot caves and pigeon niches and drift rather worryingly near the side of a valley. We lift quickly to avoid it but we can deliberately hit the soft trees, their tops bending against the balloon basket, the eight of us flinching as it draws close and then blinking in the soft pollen that is scattered once we hit.
We also just skip over a powerline, and Kaile later calls out on the radio "don't forget the power line at the end of the valley" to the other Kappadokya Balloons. We go low enough to scrape the ground as we exit a valley, and at times the balloons have been able to pick the fruit off the trees as they pass.
At a point, the group breaks into song and Happy Birthday can be heard over the air and well wishers come in over the radio. I had always dreamed of taking this flight for my 30th birthday. It's my moment and I love it.
The burners control our height, but otherwise we are at the mercy of the wind. Once we have been drifting in silence for some time, and the burners are pushed on again, I jump with the sound and the heat, which is more intense away from the balloon basket. We laugh as I ensure that next time the burners go off, I don't leap out the basket.
We are snap happy. "How many photos of Uchisar Kale from the air can we take" joke those of us staying outside of Goreme. We call it our castle with the smugness of those who are outside the main tourist traps.
We spend much more than an hour in the air and I suppose only stop because our batteries and film is exhausted and our cheeks ache with smiles. We touch down, and the support crew who have followed our progress are there to gather the balloon and with a little bit of weight shifting (the larger men get out, we women folk stay aboard) and the balloon is pushed as it drifts onto the trailer. Sure beats lifting it by hand.
We are spoilt by cake and visne with champagne when we all gather, and I am spoilt by candles and song once more. There has been no better way to turn 30, but I am sure it's also a good way to turn 31.